Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Out of Fight, Out of Mind: How We Keep Mislaying the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon has the wonderful charisma that the first view each of its visitors has is so beyond expectation that it is the opposite of deja vu: That first time is like nobody had ever seen anything like this before. 

Over more visits, we may become comfortable with the Canyon’s ability to strike awe, even as we learn more and more about just how far-reaching the Canyon is — geographically & chronologically extensive, and spiritually intensive.

The urge to reach out, explore, and re-visit grows. That urge may transmute into a desire to celebrate the Canyon, to introduce others to it, to cherish & protect it even as it nourishes our  sense that our Earth is a generous home.

Over the past near century-and-a-half, there have been many ideas for how we might cope with these urges. Some ideas are bizarre & wrong — trams and dams come to mind —, the products of the stunted perspective that only what humans have imprinted, industrialized, turned into cash, has value.

Rising above and riding over the exploitative impulse has been the conceptual and socio-political effort — invested with the spiritual at its best — that  seeks to honor the Rooseveltian admonition by embedding it in enduring institutions and practices. That effort has had many forms and done much good for the entire Canyon, bringing the Grand Canyon as a topographic entity to universal prominence along with multiple protective steps, or perhaps, gestures.

Yet, strangely, these sometimes halting efforts can seem disconnected, almost as if successive generations, in their own amazed first discovery, were unaware of or had forgotten previous goals. (I know; it happened with me.)

A few years ago, I described the history of National Park protection of the Canyon as an expansion of our intellectual grasp of it, from concentrating on setting aside the Big Hole, through patch-as-patch-can additions (and subtractions), to including its whole length plus side canyons and plateaus. 

This last, in the further-expanded concept of the Canyon’s drainage, has shaped a number of efforts in the past 50 years — the Sierra Club’s 1966 bill and 1973 refinement, then-Secretary of the Interior Babbitt’s Antiquities Act 2000 Grand Canyon - Parashant Monument, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council’s 2012 Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument proposal, and last year, U.S. Representative (and great friend of the Canyon) Grijalva’s Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument bill. 

This is all quite exciting Yet I wish to complain.

Consider: In 1910 (yes, over a century ago), two years after President Theodore Roosevelt audaciously proclaimed (using John Wesley Powell’s Big Hole concept) the first Grand Canyon National Monument, the American Scenic and Historical  Preservation Society, under the guidance of Frederick Dellenbaugh, took a far more sweeping proposal (inside red lines) to Roosevelt’s successor, President Taft:
The U.S.Geological Survey — no longer influenced by Powell’s great intellect — pooh-poohed this generous idea, and in the event, the legislation that led to the 1919 Grand Canyon National Park Act was crabbed in both its physical extent and approval of exploitation. Indeed the 1910 ASHPS proposal disappeared from view and memory. I do wonder if the problem was that the struggle between Park advocates and user interests wore the debaters out, so for half a century, there was no guidance from a general understanding of the Canyon’s extent and impact.  

Had there been such guidance — a (nearly) all-encompassing ideal Park—, would, for instance, Park Superintendent Eakin never have given away the confluence of the big & Little Colorados? Maybe, even, Arizona’s Senator Hayden would have left the east side of the Canyon in public ownership, instead of giving the Navajo second-priority rights there. First priority, it is painful to recall, went to the short-sighted — those who looked at rivers and canyons as locations to generate electricity, a industrial artifact that we still have not reached the technological and institutional level that allows its production while avoiding its world-destroying side effects. In any case, the Navajo demonstrated their attitude toward the Canyon by spurning the dam and establishing two Tribal Parks, running from the Little Colorado north all along the Canyon’s eastern side. These Parks, respectful of Navajo tradition while formalizing the eastern end of the ASHPS ideal, do not receive the larger recognition they deserve.

Another positive effect of the fights over hydro-power locations was the Sierra Club’s determination to keep any further dams and their impacts out of the full length of the Grand Canyon. That position would have been a no-brainer had the 1910 ASHPS proposal been in the forefront of thinking about the Grand Canyon, but that not being true, the Club had to re-invent the wheel in 1966, stirring up general hilarity and scoffing among dam proponents for the all-inclusive bill it advocated. (See my 20 Apr 2012 blog entry.)

When Arizona’s Senator Goldwater was given a green light in 1972 to push a Grand Canyon National Park bill, the Club was fortunate to have an ally, New Jersey’s Clifford Case, who would introduce a refined version of the Club’s wheel, important parts of which were then included in the House-passed version, but deleted in the final 1975 Act. Those parts were studied for Park worthiness in the late 1970’s, but again, no over-arching guidance was available then or for 20 years more.

In 1998, Secretary Babbitt explicitly formulated the next expansion using the idea of a Grand Canyon watershed. The over-enthusiastic result, the Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument, is an odd beast, since its northwestern half drains through the Grand Wash Cliffs down into Lake Mead. And, oddly, it leaves the western Canyon in the administrative tangle of being divided between the National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and BLM’s Arizona Strip office. Once again, the 1910 ASHPS would have been a useful guide for unification.

The focus of attention shifted eastwards in the 2012 Watershed and 2015 Heritage Grand Canyon balloons. (See my post of 14 Nov 2015.) Again, the opportunity was not taken for a 1910-type vision recognizing (close to) all of the Canyon. However, the purposes to be served were expanded, reaching out particularly to the “native, cultural, sacred lands” found in the delineated Heritage Monument, though it does not include any lands of the Navajo, Havasupai, or Hualapai. Nevertheless, the bill envisions a working collaboration between the Grand Canyon region’s “Associated Tribes” and federal land administrators.

Had the 1975 Park Act’s section 6 actually brought about the regional cooperation it encouraged among such entities under the auspices of the Secretary of the Interior, we could have had some working models for these latest proposals. However, as too often, an intense conflict concluded, and its echoes died out instead of continuing to provide enlightenment on how we might proceed. (As an example of what can be done, for 5-6 years at the beginning of this century, Park Service staff and the Hualapai did meet regularly in a formal way on Colorado River matters with what appear to be some useful results. Sadly, this effort dissolved and has not been revived.)

The time for legislative action on these new initiatives may not be ripe. However, as these proposals and the confrontation over tourist industrialization at the Colorado Confluence show, the Canyon still inspires ferment and the desire to benefit from discussion, cooperation, and action among local entities. Obviously, I continue to believe that being guided by an over-arching concept of the entire Canyon would be a positive stimulus for the Canyon’s health and our own. Surely, those engaged in working on any aspect of Canyon affairs can find inspiration and strength in the connectedness of the fullest vision of the entire Grand Canyon.

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